By Gal Sitty
Today, Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his groundbreaking discovery of a new chemical structure previously thought to be impossible. This award is made all the more impressive when considering that awards for scientific advances are often split between two or three people yet Professor Shechtman was the sole recipient of this year’s prize.
Shechtman’s discovery was so radical that it “fundamentally altered how chemists conceived of matter” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In fact, Shechtman’s findings were so groundbreaking and controversial that it was met with extreme skepticism and mockery from his peers and led to his expulsion from his research team. Essentially, Shechtman acted against well-entrenched schools of thought in the field in order to turn the entire science upside down and pave the way for more life enhancing discoveries.
So why was Shechtman so different from his peers? How was he able to prove his discovery despite all the opposition from the established community? The answer lies in the culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and of challenging conventions which exists in Israel that has led to the country’s impressive technological and economic achievements.
This culture, well documented in the book “Start Up Nation,” has made Israel the country with the highest amount of start-up companies per capita (second behind the US in terms of absolute numbers), more NASDAQ listed companies than any country outside of North America, more venture capital per capita than any country in the world and an impressive 10 Nobel Prizes, more than all the other countries in the region combined.
This culture has also led to many technological innovations that most Americans use everyday such as cell phones and Intel processors. Shechtman, like many Israelis, did not let established thought, traditions and norms blind him from seeing something new that challenged convention. This is how Intel’s Israeli research team was able to develop the Core Duo processor, the fastest processor at its time despite the fact that its “clock speed” was actually slower than previous chips.
Indeed, in true Israeli style, Shechtman’s finding was
“one of these great scientific discoveries that go against the rules”
according to American Chemical Society President Nancy Jackson. His work, like many Israeli innovations, will continue to enhance the world we live in.
So at a time when Israel is increasingly threatened, unjustly demonized by its enemies and continually misrepresented in the media, Shechtman’s achievement is a reminder to us and to the World that Israel is indeed a benevolent country, a country that contributes to global peace and well-being, a country that fosters academic and other freedoms, a country that values progress and innovation, and a country that has improved the human condition all over the world.